DEMOS Explains Constitutional Interpretation in the Populist Age

In conference, researchers analysed Hungarian law

October 04, 2019 12:00 AM
Furzsina Gárdos-Orosz. She is director of the Institute of Legal Studies at the Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest Zoltán Szente. He is a research chair at the Institute for   Legal Studies at the Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest

DEMOS scholars Fruzsina Gárdos-Orosz and Zoltán Szente, from the Centre for Social Sciences in Budapest, presented the paper “Framing constitutional interpretation in the populist age” at the XIVth CEENJ conference Jurisprudence in Central and Eastern Europe, which took place in Bratislava, Slovakia, on September 12-13. To discuss populism, the scholars used as a case study the 2011 Hungarian Fundamental Law—the part which prescribes how its own text should be interpreted.

The 2011 law established, for example, that it should be “presumed that (judges) serve moral and economical purposes which are in accordance with common sense and the public good” — among other unusual and authoritative methods of interpretation.

Those “interesting innovations of the law”, argues Gárdos-Orosz and Szente, may have significantly had an impact on national checks and balances. That’s because the 2011 law let the Constitutional Court enforce methods of interpretation toward the rest of the country’s courts, raising questions about the court’s autonomy to interpret the constitution.

The September conference was Gárdos-Orosz and Szente’s fourth event on law and populism this year. In July, both attended the 29th World Congress of the International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (IVR) entitled Dignity, Democracy, Diversity. The conference was held at the University of Lucerne, in Switzerland. At that occasion, they focused on the Constitutional Court’s abstract review and constitutional complaint procedures.

In March, both researchers took part in two conferences. One was the III. Erasmus Legal Science Week, in Sofia, Bulgaria, where they compared how judicial reforms in Hungary and Poland have limited judicial independence in recent years. They also analyzed how the constitution has changed. Another conference was the Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, held in New York, the United States. For that event, Gárdos-Orosz and Szente explored Hungary’s authoritarian backslide in the past decade and how the centralization of power, enabled by the 2011 law, affected human rights policies. Since fundamental rights are obstacles to centralization and appropriation of power, policies in that field may have similarly backslid in Hungary, the researchers explain.


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